Origins: Apes and Aliens


At the end of last summer (2019), I found myself drawing apes. No real reason. Perhaps, it was because I still subscribe to the vintage notion that apes are inherently funny. Drawing a few pages of primates cavorting brought a smile to my face. (Making myself smile is the chief reason to draw.)


In September, I posted this drawing of an ape on my Flickr page. I liked the way that a few simple props could suggest a career. That led to more ape sketches with wardrobe details and props to suggest occupations. (See below.)


In November, I thought about bringing lots of different apes together...perhaps a crowded coffee shop. (See below.)


I still like this idea of a coffee shop. I might come back to it in the future with a wider range of creatures. Watch for a letterpress print based on the idea of having coffee with aliens. Meanwhile, for a jigsaw puzzle, it seemed like there ought to be a lot more characters than one can fit into a coffee shop. Dozens? Hundreds?

Memory Lane. Back when I had a real job, I flew to client meetings almost every week. I spent way too much time in airports. I was inspired to do a rough sketch with apes queueing in those long, snaky lines I remembered from countless hours in U.S. airports. (See below.)


The sketch above convinced me this could make a distinctive jigsaw puzzle. All I needed to do was draw and color 150 different apes. Get started.

Winter work. Day after day, I got to draw ape travelers and alien travelers. First in pencil and then inked with brush pens. (See below.) Each character would audition for a place in the design. Many were rejected. I scanned and colored the finalists digitally and added each to the airport scene. 



Airports always seemed to have advertising posters mixed in with the travelers. So I added some posters to break up the crowds. In December, I was fooling around with a pattern based on fig newtons, so that pattern became one of the posters. (See below.) Other posters promote bananas and space travel. Of course.



This puzzle design is already an outdated anachronism. I finished the design at the end of February 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic starting inconveniencing the U.S. Just before everyone decided to stop going to airports and to wear masks outside the house. (Only one traveler in the scene is wearing a mask. See below.)



Don’t forget, jigsaw puzzles can be an amusing diversion for people trapped in their homes as plagues sweep back and forth across the land. So, I’m working on a few more designs. Designing them is a good activity for me while I’m under house arrest.

Don–Pittsburgh, July 24, 2020


10 Responses


October 16, 2020

I LOVE this puzzle! The amazing number of facial expressions on the apes was so much fun to match. My only negative feedback (minor) is that the picture on the box does not match the colors on the actual puzzle (the puzzle colors are better). It was fun from start to finish, highly recommend it.


September 13, 2020

Superb! I was given Evil Twins as a gift and LOVED it! Look forward to the Apes and Aliens. Your blog post about creating it is also so fun. Keep up the good work!


August 24, 2020

It’s actually not such a vintage notion. Apes are inherently funny – ESPECIALLY yours!
Bravo on creating such unique, clever and brilliant creatures such as these.
You bring joy and inspiration during a time where we could certainly all use it.

Allison Sommers

August 17, 2020

There’s a long tradition of Singeries in art history that is just CALLING OUT to be viewed through your unique artistic lens!


August 07, 2020

I could hardly wait for this puzzle to arrive. Now I wonder who’s crazier. Don, for drawing twisting lines apes and aliens, or me, for saying ‘sure, cut it into 1000 pieces and I will buy it from you so I can put it back together’. It’s an endlessly fascinating picture. Thanks goodness, because it will be on the kitchen table at least until next April. Thank you for sharing your vision.

Fran Fine

July 31, 2020

I enjoy your site!


July 26, 2020

Don, love this puzzle and the Fig Newton’s clinched the DEAL!
Im thinking the monkey in the frame toward the puzzle bottom would be a fab diversion for children during their forced incarceration if kind if bedraggled parental units would pull out the applicable pieces. Puzzles of course are good for developing minds! When you create more puzzles, please consider these puzzles within a puzzle for little ones. Thanks ever so!


July 26, 2020

Is that an ape carrying a very large chisel in line at the airport? I don’t think he’s going to make it through Security. It does look like he’s trying VERY hard to look nonchalant. “These aren’t the weapons you are looking for.”

Carol Wilkerson

July 24, 2020

I love everything about your improbable art and humor. Thank you 😊


July 24, 2020

I get such a kick out of your blog posts (and of course artwork). Thanks for keeping me laughing.

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